|Canada’s top doctors say they’re striving for a best-case scenario but preparing for the worst: a so-called “fall peak” of COVID-19 cases across the country that threatens to overwhelm the public health-care system. Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam and deputy public health officer Dr. Howard Njoo presented new modelling on the coronavirus today, flagging a potential surge in cases several times worse than what we’ve seen so far in Canada.
Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) documents show officials are aiming for a “slow burn” scenario, in which the number of cases remains low, so that the public health-care system can deal with the influx of patients. But officials are also planning for a “reasonable worst-case scenario,” where a fall spike in infections is followed by ongoing peaks and valleys, putting excessive demands on the health system. Tam noted that this fall’s surge will coincide with the flu and cold season, potentially putting added strains on hospitals and other health resources.
She declined to put a figure on what the caseload might look like, but said health authorities should plan for “something that’s at least several times worse than your previous experience.” There is much that’s still not known about COVID-19, including whether it accelerates with seasonality. Tam said what actions Canadians take now will determine how transmissions unfold in the fall, and stressed that as businesses and schools reopen and more people return to the workplace, Canadians must be vigilant in following public health guidelines to avoid a major rebound.
Today’s modelling information is not intended to predict what will happen, but to provide a snapshot of what could happen in certain scenarios. It projects that the “peaks and valleys” could continue through 2022 and comes as anxiety increases about potential outbreaks as students return to classrooms in the coming weeks. “Continuing to build up capacity across our health, public health and laboratory systems while urging all Canadians to continue with public health practices will give us the best chance of keeping the epidemic on a slow burn, while preparing us in the event of a need to rapidly ramp up response measures for possible larger resurgence,” Tam said.
Key measures to limiting outbreaks include detecting and isolating cases, contact tracing and quarantining, physical distancing, handwashing and staying home when possible and using exposure notification apps. Njoo said about 1.9 million people have downloaded Canada’s COVID-19 exposure notification app, and he urged people to take part, especially young people who go to pubs and nightclubs. The number of new cases reported daily has increased in recent weeks, with the highest rate of infection among people aged 20 to 39.